Music Review: Bobby Long – A Winter Tale

Hey there…

When I was 24, I was still trying to figure out my life. How many of us can honestly say we knew what we were doing with the rest of our lives by that point? And yet, in this age of American Idol, we now see kids as young as fifteen entering the limelight without any clue of what’s to come.

So when I heard Bobby Long’s music, I was in shock and awe not only that A Winter Tale was his debut studio album, but that he had that much conviction behind his words at age 24. It turns out he’s one of the few young talented folks who actually had his act together at a young age (17). He started at open-mic nights in London as he went to London Metropolitan University studying music in film and writing a thesis on “The Social Impact of American Folk Music” and has been touring over the last couple of years building his fanbase.

Between his great guitar skills and poetic lyrics, Bobby was a rising star with a bright future. His fans already know that. But with his album about to be released, the rest of the world has no idea what’s coming. From the opening strains of “A Winter Tale” through “A Stranger Song,” he had me enthralled as he told his stories in song.

I was raised in a house where I heard a ton of folk music growing up, but even since then I haven’t heard much that comes close to Bobby’s style and sound. The mix of blues and folk influences that comes closest may be Peter Mulvey, who’s one of my favorites. But there’s more country-blues and rock in Bobby’s guitar arrangements that offers something unique. There’s a sadness to each of these tales sung with an emotional punch and a voice that holds much more experience than someone so young ought to have.

A Winter Tale pairs the young artist’s talents with some amazing folks backing him up. Nona Hendryx (LaBelle) offers background vocals on “Penance Fire Blues” and Icelandic singer Lay Low offers backing vocals on other tracks. Add to that the pedal steel guitar of B.J. Cole (who plays with Elton John and Sting), and others and you end up with a textured release that simply doesn’t sound like a debut album. This might as well have been Bobby’s third or fourth…

But let me get back to the songs themselves…

“Who Have You Been Loving” tells the tale of moving on from someone who’s wronged him with a message loud and clear – “If someone isn’t hurt, then it’s gonna be me / but the tears they taint your heart, you’re so happy that you’re free / if you’re no better now than you’ve ever been / you owe me an apology…” But he’s moving on – “Before the dusk falls to dark, I’ll have you banished from my mind / I just need a moment’s rest to make it mine…” With a steady blues beat in the background and an electric guitar offering a bit of harshness, the song doesn’t beat around the bush…

And then in “Sick Man Blues,” we’re presented with a very different sound. This time the singer speaks fondly of a woman who’s bad news… It’s a dichotomy of happy, upbeat finger picking and sad lyrics often found in folk music. “Your love carries the rhinestone of a plague, so bear in mind the lives that you could save / I’m bound to walk the darkness again…” It’s an old story told with a new voice. “My love it sits untainted to the rigours of your stare / there ain’t anybody like you and the fairness of your hair / it leaves me stranded…” Could he walk away? It’s hard to say.

But my favorite song on the album has to be “Penance Fire Blues,” with its rhythmic strumming and gospel blues feel as it tells tales of a man suffering in a darkness of his own making. This might as well be about world politics as much as love. “You back down a hallway / to flourish the darkness / and you fool yourself / You did it all for her / and him, and her…” The truths we all cling to fade away in the end. What do reasons matter when compared with the deeds themselves?

How can someone so young have such insights into the world? Like all of us, Bobby Long is a product of his times – but damn if he doesn’t have an amazing way of expressing himself. If this is one of the new sounds of modern folk, I’ll be listening until they put me in the ground.

Looking for a fresh voice? Check out Bobby Long’s A Winter Tale today. Check out his website at BobbyLong.info for more about the album and his touring schedule to see if he’s in your neck of the woods!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great albums from Barnes & Noble:

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Music Review: Eva Cassidy – Simply Eva

Hi all!

A decade ago, I heard Eva Cassidy for the first time in an unlikely place. We were watching an episode of Smallville on television and as soon as the song came on I started to ignore whatever was happening on screen. Eva was singing her version of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Time After Time“. Already a fan of the original, Eva’s version took it to a whole different level… and thus started my fascination with her music.

That one song was my gateway drug. Since then, I’ve picked up albums here and there, always hungry for more. Her album Time After Time still finds its way into my playlist at least once a week. Her versions of “Kathy’s Song” (written by Paul Simon and originally performed by Simon & Garfunkel), “At Last” (originally performed by Etta James), and “Woodstock” (originally performed by Joni Mitchell) haunt my mind on a regular basis.

It’s tough for me to describe the qualities of her voice in words. She was ethereal at times. Always passionate. With a tenderness and a strength that sends chills down my spine every single time. There are few voices that do that to me on a regular basis and Eva’s is one of them.

As I began learning more about Eva, I was crushed to discover that she had passed away of melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33. Another life cut far too short. She had so much more to share with the world.

So when I heard Blix Street Records was releasing an album of twelve acoustic tracks from Eva, I knew I had to give it a listen. The album, called Simply Eva, goes back to the core of what Eva relied on – her voice and her guitar. And as always, I was not disappointed. How could I be?

There are some songs I’d heard before with broader arrangements, such as “People Get Ready” which appeared on Live at Blues Alley. And both “Kathy’s Song” and “Time After Time” appeared on her album Time After Time. But these are stripped down versions that really showcase her guitar skills as well as her amazing voice.

Though every track is amazing, I’m going to focus on three here that really moved me.

Wade in the Water” is a classic gospel song that she just croons with a simple pluck and strum pattern that takes this gospel to a bluesy place that simply rocks. Eva would fit right into a gospel choir with this one. There’s a spiritual quality to her singing that makes even this agnostic soul think twice. For years my father has played this song on his twelve-string guitar but wasn’t able to remember the name, which makes it all that much more personal for me.

Then there’s “Wayfaring Stranger,” which is a staple of the folk tradition. And once again, Eva makes this an emotionally loaded song of cascading meanings. I wonder what she was thinking of as she sang… “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger / Traveling through, this world of woe. / There’s no sickness, toil nor danger / That bright land, to which I go.” For someone who left us with so much more to say, I hope she’s someplace like that.

And finally, there’s “Over the Rainbow” written for the MGM classic movie The Wizard of Oz. Eva played with the arrangement a bit to make it hers. It’s a song of hope for the future… “Someday I’ll wish upon a star / And wake up where the clouds are far / Behind me.” With a wistful quality in her voice, you truly believe that she hopes things will turn out for the best someday.

If you are a fan of Eva Cassidy’s, or simply are looking for some amazing acoustic folk with a voice that will leave you longing for more, I can’t recommend picking up a copy of Simply Eva enough. Give it a listen. She is missed, but she left behind an amazing legacy for us to enjoy for years to come.

Simply Eva is available today – Tuesday, January 25, 2011.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Eva Cassidy albums from Barnes & Noble and Amazon below:

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Music Review: Kat Maslich-Bode – The Road of 6

Hey all…

Sometime in the mid-2000s I came across a group known as Eastmountainsouth – a folk/rock duo composed of Kat Maslich (now Kat Maslich-Bode) and Peter Bradley Adams. Their self-titled album “Eastmountainsouth” was the only album the duo produced, though it had a few songs used in film and television soundtracks. And the song “Hard Times” has haunted a corner of my mind ever since.

In this time of job and economy woes, the lyrics of “Hard Times” still plead for tough times to “come again no more.” “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears / while we all sup sorrow with the poor / there’s a song that will linger forever in our ears / oh, hard times come again no more.” With its Americana/folk roots, the acoustic guitar and duet between Kat and Peter has just the right balance of gravitas and hope.

So when I heard that Kat was releasing her first solo album since the duo split in 2004, I wanted to give it a listen. The album title – The Road of 6 – comes from the number of years it’s taken to complete it as a labor of love and friendship. She says “I am truly blessed to have so many amazing friends, musicians, and singers join me on the record.”

Though a short album, coming in at about 25 minutes and 6 tracks, it features some interesting choices, such as a cover of Tim Easton‘s “JPMFYF” – a controversial song about the state of Christianity today. And I have to admit the album came as a bit of a surprise to me. Whereas Eastmountainsouth had a good mix of upbeat and ballad tunes, The Road of 6 comes across as a bit depressing.

Kat wrote “March” for her husband on their wedding day, and uses the heartbeat of their daughter (then in-utero) to open and close the song. With guest vocals by Mary Chapin Carpenter, the song definitely comes across as a slow love song that would work well as a wedding march – sharing the joy one partner shares with another when you’re in a marriage that works.

“Sky Falls” features Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) and Neilson Hubbard on background vocals. The lyrics are about trying to be someone you’re not and watching as the “Sky Falls” around you as a result. Of all the songs on the album, this is one of my favorites. I think coming to terms with your true self and what you need to do is one of the hardest things a person has to do in life. And the steady, but not too-slow beat keeps the song chugging along behind Kat’s soaring vocals.

And “Poor Old Town” is my other favorite, though it focuses on getting out of a small town that’s fading. Background vocals are sung by Jim Lauderdale, a Bluegrass/country artist who’s been performing since the early ’90s and has written songs for George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, and others. I love his expressive country voice behind Kat’s – it adds a whole other dimension to the song. Like with “Sky Falls,” this one deals with leaving behind everything you’ve known to start over and the melancholy of the new life and the life left behind.

Overall, I thought The Road of 6 was a strange mix of songs – from the personal (“March”) to the controversial (“JPMFYF”) to those about the human condition (“Sky Falls” and “Poor Old Town”). The arrangements were good, but the balance of the album seemed to be falling into a very sad place. I don’t mind sad songs, but there has to be more hope and energy for an album to be truly great.

The Road of 6 from Kat Maslich-Bode is available now and she’ll be touring and working on her full-length follow-up album throughout the next year. Fans of Eastmountainsouth will want to give her a listen and I hope that her next album can strike a better balance. Check out her webiste at KatMaslichBode.com for more details about the album and her tour schedule!

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Here are a couple of albums to check out:

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